Lentil, Kale & Egg Bake

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So this dish is a twist on shakshuka, that beautifully spiced North African dish of eggs baked in a spicy, sticky tomato-pepper sauce.

It came about because I had bits of vegetables and odds & ends lying around in my fridge- and I am unapologetic about combining the most random elements to create a dish, if it suits me.

♥ “But can you put lentils in shakshuka?”

   “It’s shakshuka-inspired. It’s a lentil bake.”

 

♥ “Can you actually bake kale?”

   “Sure…just wilt it in and pop it in the oven.”

 

♥ “But isn’t this supposed to be for breakfast?”

   “Naaah…eggs & kale work anytime, anytime.”

 

So I had one carrot. One small bunch of kale. A wrinkly red red pepper. Some tomatoes. Half a dozen eggs. And an almost-empty jar of green mung dal. I decided to toss everything together, crack some eggs on top and put it all in the oven. Minimal effort, fewer dishes to wash, and an all-in-one meal.

I think hotchpotch-meal creation is genetic. It comes from my maternal grandmother. Just nonchalantly tossing things together (which you normally wouldn’t,) and making a meal of it. My grandmom would put things in front of us, combinations which we weren’t used to, and if we questioned the meal, she’d just say “of course you can add ___ to sambhar!” without batting an eyelid. The ___ in question could be something like cauliflower, which really isn’t added to sambhar, but if there was an odd end of it lying around, it would go in.

And for this bake, whatever little I had in my fridge was thrown in. (Ok, gently sautéed and wilted in.) I cooked the green mung dal beforehand of course, (in a pressure cooker,) because they can take a while to get tender.

LENTIL, KALE AND EGG BAKE (With inspiration from NYT Cooking and Serious Eats.)

INGREDIENTS

  • Cooked lentils, 1 cup (I used green mung, but red lentils, puy lentils or beluga lentils would work just as well. Just remember cooking times for each vary.)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 3 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne/chilli flakes
  • ¼ cup grated carrot
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup kale, shredded
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs
  • Feta or goat’s cheese (optional)

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  • In a largish skillet or pot, heat the olive oil on medium-to low. Add the garlic, lightly sautee, then add the tomatoes and allow them to soften. Add the spices and sautee till the raw smell of the spices disappears- the oil will start to separate a little at this point. Add the carrots and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper.
  • Cover and cook for 10 minutes until the mixture begins to break down and soften. Add the lentils and wilt in the kale, cover and simmer till the mixture thickens.
  • Next, take the mixture off the heat and transfer to an oven-proof baking dish, or you could use the same skillet if it’s oven proof. Make gentle wells in the mixture with the back of a spoon and crack the eggs in. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Crumble some goat’s cheese or feta over the top, and bake at 180 C for 15 minutes or until eggs are cooked and the yolks are set to your liking. I don’t like runny yolks, so I kept my dish in the oven for a while longer.

Brown Rice Noodles With Ginger Scallion Broth

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I love reading about food trends, and if there’s one that is definitely going to be big in 2015, it’s broth. Everyone from Joy The Baker to The New York Times to The Guardian have called it, and broth is becoming a trendy alternative pick-me-up to coffee.

I began to read voraciously about broth after reading about Hemsley +Hemsley in Goop and The Coveteur. I’ve been following the Hemsley sisters’ work obsessively online for the past month or so, and since broth forms the basis of many of their recipes, I figured I’d give it a try.

I’ll admit, I’m the queen of the stock cube. Whether it’s soup or pasta sauce, I reach for stock cubes and throw them in- they are convenient and give a quick taste-boost. It’s not that I haven’t made my own stock before- I have, but stock cubes are just more convenient. And who’s going to save fish, chicken and mutton bones anyway?

When I buy fish, I almost always get it filleted so that I can use it for curries, pan-frying or preparing en papillote. Chicken is either boneless, drumsticks or a curry-cut; I rarely roast one whole. Boneless strips are stir-fried. Drumsticks are turned into a Kerala-style chicken fry; and a curry-cut becomes an easy one-pot chicken curry to go with rice or rotis. So chicken bones are just discarded. Mutton too, is made into a curry and we end up chucking the bones after we finish our meal.

Anyhow. After reading so much about home-made stock or broth, I had to give it a try. I made a bean-and-kale soup the other day, and instead of using a stock cube, I made my own stock with some aromats (onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, garlic, ginger,) and a handful of bony mutton pieces. Not bones, but small bony pieces. I put everything into a ceramic dutch oven, poured some cold water over it and allowed it to simmer for 2 hours. I then strained the liquid and went on preparing the rest of the soup, adding tomato puree, beans, vegetables, herbs and kale.

A stock cube is definitely easier, and the flavour is stronger- and saltier. The homemade stock, however, had a much more well-rounded flavour, though subtler.

For broth as a meal, I thought I’d take small steps, and zeroed in on a simple recipe from It’s All Good. Ginger-scallion broth with soba noodles.

Broth experiments. #Ginger #scallion broth from @turshen and gwyneth platrow's #itsallgood.

A photo posted by Meenakshi S Nair (@meenaxis) on

I replaced the soba noodles with some quick-cooking brown rice noodles, and I prepared it without the seaweed. Still really, really good. The slow simmer really brings out the flavour and kick of the ginger, and it makes for a light, soothing and flavourful meal-in-a-bowl. I topped the noodle broth with stir fried vegetables, but chicken, seafood, meat or tofu would work just as well.

New favourite recipe #itsallgood #goop #broth #foodtrends2015 #ginger

A photo posted by Meenakshi S Nair (@meenaxis) on

BROWN RICE NOODLES WITH GINGER SCALLION BROTH (Adapted from It’s All Good)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, crushed
  • 8-10 green peppercorns (optional)
  • 8 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 2 more scallions, sliced thinly, to serve
  • A handful of mint and coriander leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 250 grams brown rice vermicelli (You could also use regular white vermicelli. Use Thai vermicelli, not the semia that is used for kheer and sweets- that gets too sticky.)

METHOD

  • Combine the ginger, scallions and soy sauce with 3 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Once the liquid boils, lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. Add some mint leaves and cilantro, cover with a lid and allow the broth to rest for 5-7 minutes. Strain the liquid and set aside, covered.
  • Meanwhile, cook the brown rice vermicelli according to package instructions, drain and set aside. Divide the noodles evenly between 4 bowls, ladle the broth over it, and top with the thinly sliced scallions.  Add some stir-fried veggies/chicken/meat/tofu to make it a full meal!

Macaroni With Leeks

macaroni with leeks

I first heard of leeks in Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat. The recipe for Magical Leek Soup is one of the first recipes in the book, and I actually had to Google leeks to understand what exactly they were. They sounded leafy to me, but I quickly learned they belonged to the onion-garlic family.

Since moving to Pune, leeks have been pretty regular in our kitchen. The greenmarket has lovely leeks, and they’re reasonably priced as well. While leek and potato soup is a classic, I like eating the leeks whole or sliced.

I’m one of those cooks who enjoys the “prep,” part of cooking. I like getting my mise-en-place on, washing and prepping my vegetables and laying out my spices and condiments beforehand. But of course, any dish which requires a little less prep is always welcome. Leeks are great because they don’t require too much prep- they may appear imposing with their green heads, but they are a pretty uncomplicated vegetable to work with.

Leeks don’t beg to be peeled. They don’t need “activation,” or overnight soaking. They don’t need a slow-cooker or a big oven. They just need to have the green tops cut off, and rinsed well to get any grit out. Yes, this part takes a little patience. There usually is a fair amount of dirt and sandy grit nestled between the leaves, but once that is rinsed off and the leeks are sliced or chopped, they submit willingly to olive oil, butter and some salt and pepper- and that’s all they really need.

I looked at two recipes with leeks and pasta- Leeks Fettuccine from Guiliano’s French Women For All Seasons, and the other, Nigel Slater’s Pappardelle with Leeks. I sliced the leeks Guiliano-style but cooked them Slater-style, with butter. (Slater claims that “Leeks like butter rather than oil, and a low heat in which to cook,” so I did just that.) Both recipes are pretty bare-boned simple. If you have young leeks you don’t need to do much more to amp up the flavour except cook them with butter. Add cooked pasta, some good cheese, freshly ground black pepper, and herbs like thyme, tarragon or basil and your meal is ready. (I skipped the herbs and added some rehydrated sundried tomatoes.)

Agreed, a ribbon-y pasta looks much nicer with leeks- but I used macaroni because my son loves it.

MACARONI WITH LEEKS AND SUNDRIED TOMATOES

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced into half-moons
  • 50 g butter (this comes to half a bar of Amul butter, the small 100 g pack- it seems like a lot but you don’t need much else to dress the pasta!)
  • 1 ½ cups uncooked macaroni
  • ½ cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in water and drained.
  • ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook till al dente. Drain and reserve some of the pasta water.
  • While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in another large pot over low heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper and let them cook slowly in the butter until soft and tender.
  • Once the leeks are cooked, add in the cooked pasta, the sundried tomatoes, a little bit of the pasta water and parmesan. Mix well, pull off the heat and serve. Add more parmesan and butter by all means, if you wish :D